The Market Research Standards Board (MRSB) found that its partner Panelbase had breached its rules on eight occasions, having “led participants to a particular point of view”.
The questions which are understood to have breached the rules included some on the topics of Alex Salmond and his Alba Party, and the former lord advocate James Wolffe.
Some were found not to have included a “don’t know” or “prefer not to say” option, forcing respondents to pick a view which they may not necessarily hold.
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The Wings Over Scotland blog, which is run by Stuart Campbell, published a post referencing some of the questions which are understood to have broken the rules on April 20, 2021. The MRSB said it had first received the now-upheld complaints in that month.
Campbell claimed the complaints had been “malicious and politically-motivated”.
In a statement published on its website about the complaints about the Wings Over Scotland-commissioned polling, the MRSB wrote: “Having conducted its investigation, MRSB found that Panelbase did not take reasonable action, when undertaking data collection, to ensure that participants were not led toward a particular point of view, in breach of rule 28 d) of the MRS Code of Conduct.
“In addition, MRSB found that Panelbase did not take reasonable action, when undertaking data collection, to ensure that participants were able to provide information in a way that reflects the view they want to express, including don’t know/prefer not to say, in breach of rule 28 c) of the MRS Code of Conduct.
“In reaching this conclusion, MRSB notes that Panelbase fully co-operated with the MRSB investigation.
“MRSB concluded that it was appropriate that Panelbase was formally advised of the breach in accordance with paragraph 32 c i of the MRS Company Partner Complaints Procedure.”
Rules 28 c and 28 d of the MRSB code of conduct state that polling participants should be “able to provide information in a way that reflects the view they want to express, including don’t know/prefer not to say” and that participants should not be “led toward a particular point of view”.
Panelbase managing director Paul Wealleans said that the need to include Don’t Know options is “not made explicit in Rule 28c of the MRS Code of Conduct but we plan to abide by this ruling in future polls”.
He said that issue had affected seven of the eight rulings against his firm.
The other problem was in a question which was said to have overstated support for Alba, putting them on a par with the Greens and LibDems.
Wealleans that in Panelbase’s polling at tbe time, Alba were recording “6% for the Holyrood Regional List vote in the upcoming Scottish Parliament Election”.
He went on: “The MRSB found against us on this point because other pollsters did not have the Alba vote share at this level. Our feeling was that whatever other polls said, we could not discount our own findings and therefore the results of this question were cleared for release. In discussion with the client, we had in fact softened the original wording …
“However, we have taken this finding on board for consideration in future questionnaire development.”
Campbell (above) said: “Questions with no Don’t Know options – called ‘forced choice’ questions – have been a perfectly normal polling practice for years without causing any issues whatsoever, and are not prohibited under British Polling Council rules.
“This was a malicious and politically-motivated complaint designed solely to cause inconvenience to Panelbase because they work with Wings, and certain groups of people do not like our positions on the SNP and trans issues.
“The single supposedly ‘leading’ question reflected multiple polls which showed Alba with a higher level of support than they eventually achieved.”
Pollster Mark McGeoghegan said: “Questionnaire and question design is important in polling. Both technically, as we want accurate data that helps us understand the state of public opinion in general, and ethically, in terms of our responsibilities to our respondents and wider society.”